Zorba the Hutt (zorbathut) wrote,
Zorba the Hutt

How I recovered my hard drive by double-boiling it

First I’m going to show you a picture, just to get your attention.

I have a rather old computer case that I’ve been lugging around for years. It’s a Hush Technologies Mini-ITX. I don’t think they even make these systems anymore – I got mine many, many years back, and it was one of the first they produced.

The Hush Mini-ITX was a near-silent computer, before silent computers were anywhere close to as easy to build. It used a Mini-ITX board, a small quiet low-power motherboard that frequently had a small fan for cooling, but instead of the standard fan it used a heat pipe connected to the side of the case. The case itself acted as a large heatsink and radiator for the CPU. The hard drive was enclosed in a heat-conductive but noise-silencing frame. Overall, a clever design.

It’s been a hardy case. I can’t say the same for components put inside of it. It runs hotter than I really want – so far it’s on its third hard drive, its third motherboard, and its second power supply. Last time I swapped the hard drive when it started getting a bit noisy – not “there are things banging around in the hard drive case” noisy, but “its hum is getting louder”. I figured the same thing would work this time, so in my recent upgrade I included a spare hard drive for it. Standard replacement deal – turn the system off, plug the extra hard drive in, toss a SystemRescueCd in the drive, and it refused to detect either hard drive.

Eventually I figured out that my old hard drive was deeply, deeply unhappy. It wouldn’t show up in BIOS (and neither would any other drive on that IDE chain) and it wouldn’t even initialize – it would just sit there and click. Click. Click. Click. Click-whir. Click. Click. Click. It was spinning up just fine . . . although after enough clicks, it would spin down again. It just wasn’t showing up as a hard drive to the computer.

I did a lot of research and tried the standard recovery tricks. Apparently there’s a rather infamous hard drive Click of Death, but it’s more of a general symptom than a specific cause, and the causes can be anything ranging from “your hard drive is somewhat old” to “your drive head is now bent at a ninety degree angle”. So that didn’t really help me diagnose it, much less solve it.

The tricks are, to be said, odd, but I tried them anyway. Freezing the drive didn’t help – if anything, it made the click noisier. Banging the drive gently didn’t help. At this point I had kind of given up, so I tried banging it more emphatically and that didn’t help either. That’s most of the standard tricks.

So I sat there, with a slowly thawing hard drive sitting on the desk in front of me, and thought.

One of the possible reasons for the Click of Death was that the heads had gotten misaligned, either vertically or horizontally, or in some combination of the two. Another possible reason was that the heads had actually gotten stuck on something. If I could jar the heads loose, or get it started, it might function fine after that. And it had been working just peachy-keen in the computer beforehand – I hadn’t even realized it was defective, just old.

So if the heads are just stuck . . . and freezing the drive makes it louder . . . well, brief diversion. If you have a jar that you can’t open, there’s a trick to getting it open. You run the jar under hot water. The lid expands, and the neck expands, and that also means the gap between the lid and the neck expands. And that makes it easier to open. Now, if I heated up my hard drive, perhaps the same thing would happen. On top of that, the drive had been quite a bit warmer when it was working – it had been encased in that soundproof frame I mentioned before. What if I brought it to near that same temperature before trying?

Obviously I didn’t want to melt the drive, or burn it, or get it wet. This is exactly what a double boiler is for, and you can approximate a double-boiler easily using two pots. Thus the picture at the beginning of this entry.

I heated the drive up until it was bordering on “hot to the touch”. I figured that was around how hot it was before. I plugged it in, and . . .

. . . well, apparently I’ve now invented a new way of repairing hard drives. I copied over the most vital stuff, moved it to a different computer quickly (I’ve never been afraid of a component cooling down before, but I suppose there’s a first time to everything) and successfully took a disk image of it. Worked 100% perfectly. I can’t find any references to this technique online, so perhaps I really am the first one to try it.

I can’t say I recommend this as a standard repair method, and obviously this is no substitute for professional repair services. But if you’ve tried freezing your hard drive, smacking your hard drive with a hammer, and all the other “normal” tricks . . . maybe it’s time to try double-boiling it.


On another subject, I will admit that this has little to do with Mandible Games. I’ve just been kind of busy lately, in entirely uninteresting ways. First off, Mandible Games almost has a logo – I’m just asking for a few minor changes before I finalize it and put it up. Second, I’ve been doing a lot of work on the interface to D-Net. I want people to be able to change the game’s resolution and aspect ratio, and that takes a lot of effort to make the menus work sanely. Third, I got a new computer and almost lost a lot of data – obviously that’s a bit of a slowdown as well.

My todo list, however, is getting shorter and shorter. Right now there’s only six items left before I actually release a public demo version. The first version is going to be Windows, since that’s what I develop on natively, but D-Net builds perfectly fine on both Linux and OSX – all I need to do is figure out how Linux and OSX packaging and installing works.

The first version also isn’t going to include online play or single-player play, just to warn you, but it should give a sense of what the game is like, and if you have some friends who want to blow you up in tanks (and, ideally, some USB game controllers), it’ll work just fine for that.

I think that’s the current State of Mandible. Double-boiling hard drives and writing uninteresting UI code. Yep. That’s about the size of it.

Tags: mandible, obscurity
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